Oligodendroglioma is a rare type of slow-growing tumor of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord. Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Oligodendroglioma may arise in cells in the brain known as oligodendrocytes. These cells produce the protective sheath that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Though uncommon, oligodendrogliomas can significantly affect a person’s neurological function and overall health. However, symptoms can vary depending on the precise location and size of the tumor.

This article explores the symptoms, causes, and treatment of oligodendrogliomas and covers frequently asked questions.

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Oligodendroglioma is a type of cancer that affects the CNS. It may originate in oligodendrocytes, which are the cells in the brain and spinal cord that produce myelin, the substance that surrounds and protects nerves. However, the evidence for this is unclear.

Oligodendrogliomas are part of a larger group of tumors known as gliomas. They are rare, occurring in 0.2 per 100,000 people. Doctors classify them into two grades according to their behavior and growth rate:

  • Grade 2 (low grade): These tumors grow slowly and tend to have a better outlook. They can develop over years without causing any symptoms.
  • Grade 3 (anaplastic): These tumors grow more rapidly and are more aggressive, often requiring intensive treatment. Grade 2 tumors can progress to grade 3, or the tumors can be grade 3 from the outset.

The symptoms of oligodendroglioma vary depending on the tumor’s size, location, and growth rate. If the tumor is still in its early stages, a person may not have any symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • seizures, which are often the first sign of an oligodendroglioma
  • headaches
  • memory problems, confusion, or difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty with coordination and balance
  • vision problems if the tumor affects certain parts of the brain

The exact cause of oligodendroglioma is uncertain, but several factors may increase the risk, including:

  • Genetics: Changes in specific genes, such as the IDH1 or IDH2 genes, have links to oligodendrogliomas.
  • Family history: People with family members with brain tumors or certain genetic syndromes may have an increased risk of oligodendroglioma.
  • Radiation exposure: Previous exposure to ionizing radiation, especially to the head, may elevate the risk of developing brain tumors.
  • Age: Doctors diagnose oligodendrogliomas more commonly in adults ages between 30 and 40 years. There is also a smaller peak of occurrences in children ages 6 to 12 years.

Diagnosing oligodendroglioma involves multiple steps to confirm the tumor’s presence, type, and size. It begins with a thorough neurological examination, during which a healthcare professional evaluates the individual’s symptoms and overall neurological function.

Doctors may then order imaging tests to see the brain and detect potential tumors. The options include:

  • Non-contrast-enhanced computed tomography (NECT): NECT scans provide images of the brain’s structure. They are often the first choice for assessing someone with nonspecific neurological symptoms, as they can quickly identify acute conditions, such as intracranial bleeding.
  • MRI: MRI scans provide detailed images of the brain’s structure. They can reveal the size, location, and characteristics of the tumor. MRI is beneficial for distinguishing oligodendrogliomas from other types of brain tumors.

Depending on the results, doctors may recommend a brain biopsy to obtain a sample of the tumor tissue for analysis. A pathologist will then examine the sample under a microscope to see if there are changes to the cells.

Pathologists can also perform genetic testing to determine if there are genetic differences that could help confirm the tumor is an oligodendroglioma.

Treatment for oligodendroglioma depends on several factors, including the tumor’s grade, size, location, and the individual’s overall health. It may include:

  • Surgery: The main treatment involves surgically removing as much of the tumor as possible while preserving surrounding brain tissue.
  • Radiation therapy: Doctors may use this after surgery to eliminate remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs such as temozolomide or a combination of procarbazine, lomustine, and vincristine are some chemotherapy options, particularly for higher grade tumors.
  • Targeted therapy: Scientists are researching newer treatments that target specific genetic changes within the tumor cells. These may be an option in some cases.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about oligodendroglioma.

What is the survival rate for oligodendroglioma?

The survival rate for oligodendroglioma varies according to the tumor’s grade and how well treatments work.

Generally, individuals with low grade oligodendrogliomas have a better outlook, with a median survival time of 10 to 12 years after diagnosis. The overall survival rate is between 51% and 83%.

Higher grade tumors have a less favorable outlook, with survival rates varying depending on response to treatment. The median survival time is 3.5 years for grade 3 tumors.

Is oligodendroglioma curable?

There is no definitive cure for oligodendroglioma, but treatments can reduce symptoms, slow progression, and prolong a person’s life.

Advances in treatment are continually improving outcomes and extending survival.

Can you live a full life with oligodendroglioma?

Some individuals with oligodendroglioma can live full and active lives, especially if doctors detect and begin treating it early.

Grade 2 oligodendroglioma has a better outlook than other gliomas. It grows slowly and is typically responsive to treatment.

However, the symptoms and outlook can vary widely. People can speak with their doctor to better understand their outlook.

Oligodendroglioma is a rare central nervous system (CNS) tumor that can cause symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and reduced thinking ability.

Healthcare professionals use comprehensive neurological exams, imaging, and genetic testing to diagnose oligodendroglioma. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

While a person’s outlook depends on various factors, low grade oligodendroglioma has a better outlook than other gliomas.